Transpersonal Leadership – Becoming the best leader you can be for the 21st Century

Becoming the best leader you can beWe call the best leaders for the 21st Century, Transpersonal Leaders. They lead beyond their ego, are radical, ethical and authentic whilst emotionally aware and caring, yet focused on performance enhancement and sustainability.

There are many differences between being a senior corporate executive of a large company and running your own small business (I know, I have done both) – but leadership is not one of them.

Yes, there are many contextual differences but they fall into “management”, not “leadership”. Management is fundamentally about process and structure, leadership is primarily about direction and people.

Human factor is key to leadership

We’ll come onto the “direction” later but let’s first discuss leadership in the context of people. In working around the world, my conclusion is that dealing with people is about 20% cultural and 80% the human factor, which we all share whatever our origin, beliefs, gender or sexual orientation. So rather than focus on the 20% that differentiates us from each other let’s instead concentrate on the 80%.

And let’s not forget that ultimately, even sustainability, security and enjoyment are a result of enhanced performance. So the more successful we are dealing with people, the more productive they will be.

The issue of productivity is always in the news. Experts usually recommend cost cutting or capital investment as the solution. The oft forgotten and perhaps most important aspect of productivity is the people.

My colleagues and I have seen huge increases in productivity when leadership improves, because then they put in more discretionary effort and hence perform better.

We have a Stone-Age brain

The first thing to remember is that when we are born we have basically the same brain as our stone-age ancestors, and because genetic change is very slow, the innate habits we are born with are still largely designed for a life in the stone-age, rather than our modern society.

These innate habits or instincts tend be about preservation, survival, living in a world of danger – in other words, an ongoing crisis. In such an environment we need to be in control, amplify the negative, continue doing the same, prepare for the worst, and exhibit powerful emotions.

This programming is not suitable for the sort of socially based threats that we usually encounter in our modern lives, although we all have crises from time to time, even if these are not life threatening.

Our brain is continually rewiring

The second thing about our brain is that it is being rewired all the time during our lives to adjust to our environment.

Most of the time this happens haphazardly and by chance as we experience life, depending on who our parents are, where we go to school, which country we are brought up in, where we work, etc. So the person we become is to some extent a result of serendipity, especially around how we handle emotions and behave as a result of that.

This is because the neural connection process (associative connections) that is most easy to rewire is the one that carries our emotions.

So just imagine if we could take control of how we rewire the neural connections that manage our emotions and behaviours. Well, that is exactly what we can do if we have the desire and determination.

Learning to be more empathetic, showing more initiative, and having more influence is no different from learning to drive a car or improving your breast stroke or tennis serve. These things are easier for some than others because of our natural attributes but everyone can improve and become reasonably competent if the desire is there. So it is with behaviours.

Learn to manage emotions and change behaviours

When I first became an entrepreneur I learned from a 360o assessment that I had lots of good traits but I only remember the two major negative ones: that I intimidated people and that I did not care about them.

I had no idea I intimidated people unintentionally and I knew that I cared about them, but I was clearly not communicating it. Somehow my emotions were controlling my behaviour.

It was only when I started to learn to coach that I finally realised my empathy needed to improve. I learned that I needed to listen more attentively, to let people know I had heard what they said, to understand what was behind their views and to let them know I understood the situation they were in.

For quite a while I had to do this consciously until eventually my brain slowly rewired and being empathetic became a habit. It will never be perfect but it is much better than before. It was not about changing my personality but about learning how best to manage my personality.

Although I was considered a good leader compared to many others, I know I would have been even more successful if I had learned this earlier in my career.

Based on our research of hundreds of leaders, probably everyone reading this article will have a few specific and discrete behaviours that, if improved, could have a major positive impact on their level of leadership. Most often they are around empathy, developing others, conflict management, change catalyst and self-confidence.

Bringing our values to full consciousness

But the leadership of people is not just about emotions and behaviours, it is also about values and our ego. Over the years we have asked many groups of people to think of the best and worst leader they have worked with and then to describe what were that leader’s best and worst characteristics.

They rarely say anything about their competence, technical skills or experience. It is usually either about their behaviour or their values and how that made them inspirational or the opposite.

So as leaders, it is really important that we bring to full consciousness what our values are and that we refer to them whenever we make a decision, especially an important one.

This can be achieved by creating a touchstone that lists our values and Transpersonal qualities (see paragraph one and example below) and using it as a check list. Practice regularly and after a while it gradually becomes a sub-conscious process.


Example Touchstone


Leading beyond our ego

As far as our ego is concerned, this is potentially the biggest barrier to becoming a Transpersonal Leader as ego drives us to make decisions solely for our own benefit rather than for others, let alone for the greater good.

This is particularly important for entrepreneurs who can easily see their company as being an integral part of who they are.

Just remember, the more that others also feel a part of “your” business, the more they will contribute because of the intrinsic motivation they feel.How to become a transpersonal leader

The drivers of our egos are primarily;

  • Power,
  • Prestige,
  • Recognition and
  • Reward

So if you can manage these drivers and instead focus on doing what is right for the key stakeholders of your business (eg. employees, customers, suppliers, the community, the planet, etc.) then you are making it more sustainable and performance-enhancing and you will also feel more fulfilled.

Vision is about people

So finally, let’s return to direction. It is important that every organisation has a purpose and a vision. But you don’t have to do it alone. Many entrepreneurs and business owners have a default that they think they have to have all the ideas to be visionary. Not at all.

Some of the best visionary leaders have no ideas; they are just excellent at collecting all the good ideas from the people around them and harnessing the passion that generates whilst remembering to give full credit where it is due, and not being egotistical about where the ideas come from. So in the end, all leadership comes back to people.

About the author

This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by John Knights, Chairman of LeaderShape Global and lead author of Leading Beyond The Ego: How to Become a Transpersonal Leader, published by Routledge. After a fast-track international corporate career he established eight companies as an entrepreneur and then over the last 15 years has focused on helping leaders to become the best they can be.

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